Every freelance communications pro knows to do their homework before talking to a new business prospect. Since so much of what you need to know is freely available online, there’s no reason to be unprepared. Along with the obvious tactics of doing a search on the key execs, company, and news coverage, here are some additional areas for a little more digging to see if you and the prospect are a good match.
1. Research the Agency of Record (AOR)
A simple Google search on agency win announcements or the contact name at the bottom of press releases will give you this insight. If the company has an AOR, track the start of the engagement to determine if the contract might be up for annual renewal. A few ways to do this are to look at the earliest date of a press release under the AOR or an agency win announcement. Another sign to check is if the company has a new AOR every year as that could signal potential turmoil.
2. Analyze the top 3 competitors
You don’t necessarily have to do a deep dive competitive SWOT, but it’s good to look at the company’s top three to five competitors and how they’re doing. This will tell you the health of the sector, the media and influencers that matter, and how your prospect stacks up against the competition.
3. Find customer reviews
As challenging as it is for many companies to get customers to go on the record, they should have some customers that are relatively easy to find on their website, social media, or review sites.
4. Learn about the executive team
Go beyond reading the bios on the company website. Check out LinkedIn or Crunchbase for more info. Look for signs of a solid track record with recognizable and successful companies as well as connections to your circle.
5. Consider the structure of the company
Is the company privately funded, backed by venture capital, or publicly traded? If it’s privately funded, is it bootstrapped by the CEO or executive team? This type of company might be more open to hiring a freelancer and there’s likely be less red tape when it comes to contract negotiations.
If the company is backed by VCs, research the following: which firms are involved, the track records of the investors, and the success of the companies in their portfolios. For publicly traded companies, check their stock chart to gauge the health of the organization. Compare that info with its top competitors.
6. Read Glassdoor Reviews
Read the reviews yet keep an open mind. If you have specific concerns about the postings, ask during the pitching stage.
7. Check how long job postings stay open
Cross check job listings against job boards like LinkedIn or Indeed to see how long the jobs have been open. There might be many reasons for the open jobs. But if they stay open too long, it may be an indicator of slow processes or other potential issues.
8. Explore profiles and activity on LinkedIn
Along with looking for employees you might know at the company and average employee tenure, check out how active they are on their company page.
9. Analyze the newsroom
Do they have a steady stream of announcements and media coverage or are there gaps? As you analyze the company’s coverage, read what’s in their news room and other articles that surface from a Google or Bing search. Don’t make any assumptions at this stage, just take note of where and when they appear in the media.
10. Look for product reviews
Check out sites like G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Top Ten Reviews to see how unbiased third parties view the company’s offerings.
11. Assess the types of awards they've won
Look at the types of awards the company wins. If the accolades are from unknown organizations or are pure pay to play, the organization might need a better understanding on the importance of focusing efforts on winning awards that matter – the ones that will help them stand out among influencers and buyers.
12. Get the S1 filing, if it's available
If the company is planning an IPO in the near future, they will likely have filed an S1 document with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It’s important to note their intended future direction as it will shape their communications strategy.
13. Check if there are any SEC investigations
Check if the company is being or has recently been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. If not the company, check the executive team to see if they have been investigated by the SEC while employed at other companies. A simple Google search will answer these questions.
14. Follow social media profiles
We all know that success on social media is more than having a presence on popular platforms. Look at whether the prospect is actively engaging the right audiences on the right platforms with the right messages.
15. Grasp the culture through the style and tone of the website
Along with a pleasing look and feel, is the website easy to navigate and does it look professional? Do they use a lot of jargon? If so, will they expect you to follow that style in your writing for them? The company doesn’t have to have the slickest website but it should give you a sense of their culture.